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January 2010



I spend much of my life coaching and supporting leaders to take on some of their biggest challenges. Whether as Thomas Friedman claims, the world is ‘flattening’, or whether it’s just that we all have to build bridges across divides, there is no way to win big without considering global markets.

Markets are made up of people. And going global is about enthusing global customers, enrolling global team-members and connecting with global partners. In today’s world, these have to rank as among the most critical aptitudes for successful leaders.

As a global consultant, born in Egypt, originally Pakistani, a New Yorker by upbringing and by choice, and having lived in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, The Netherlands, England, Japan, Singapore, Dubai and Sri Lanka, and having consulted for clients from China to South Africa, here are some of the most critical tips and tools I’ve picked up in 15 years of supporting powerfully effective global leaders.

The Message Has To Matter

Global audience or domestic audience, the message has to be meaningful to the other person’s point of view. We may have a fair intuition relative to audiences at home. But we mustn’t assume that what resonates in Calgary will fly in Calcutta.

Yes, people are people, and indeed there are universal longings we can tap into in making a pitch or communicating a point. But what may sound ‘cute’ to one audience can sound ‘patronizing’ or ‘superficial’ to another. The best way to get a grip on this is to walk at least a 100 yards in the other person’s shoes. Look at the life around them…then a way to tap their interest will occur far more clearly.

When we can allude to realities our audience experiences, and address our message to that… credibility is established and fertilized.

Listen Before You Conclude

Again, this is essentially good advice anywhere. We rush so quickly to try and ‘wow’ people with our communication that often we don’t let them teach us how they want and need to be communicated to. Communication occurs at the end of the receiver, not the sender.

So before we polish our prose, and enliven our examples, we need to understand the context our colleagues or customers face. Wouldn’t it be fascinating if we became students first, before we purported to become teachers?

The humility to learn is disarming to any defensive cynicism we may encounter anywhere in the world. Moreover, it allows us to gain telling insight into the largest concerns and greatest hopes of the people we are interacting with and hoping to partner with.

Shift Tempo

Global audiences aren’t expecting us to mime what they experience every day. They are looking for distinctiveness. So let’s express it, rather than repress it. However, they’d like that distinctiveness to be informed and relevant, not just flashy and self-promotional. So help these audiences be pleasantly surprised…by our approach, by who we are, but also by our concern for contributing to their lives.

But to earn the right to get them to move with us, let’s first be able to personally shift tempo from social times to detailed discussions to lighter moments to an exchange of confidences. This is called ‘pacing’. It means letting the other person’s overall tempo, mood and rhythm be an important factor in how and in what way we connect with them to establish rapport. Once we’ve met them where they are, with empathy, we can also help guide them to us: our own mood, energy, priorities etc. But the greater our adaptability and flexibility in terms of communication modes and moods, the more we can flex everything else while staying very focused on the goals we wish to advance without compromise.

One style doesn’t fit all — and we need to both be able to match where people are, as well as being original enough to provide a pattern interrupt that gives a healthy jolt to their sense of normalcy. When that happens they are far more likely to look at us, and hopefully our working together, with fresh eyes.

Create Opportunities to Prove Trustworthiness

As we seek to fast-track relationships and have people believe us and trust us, one simple but powerful expedient is to volunteer time or other commitments and come through on them.

Someone says, ‘So I’ll hear from you soon?’ You reply, ‘How about by close of business Monday?’ The other person didn’t require such specificity. But by volunteering it, and then meeting or beating the self-imposed deadline, you start to lay the foundation for a reputation of credibility.

Your customer says, ‘So I’ll receive that analysis in the next week or so?’ You fine-tune this, ‘By 12 o’clock Tuesday, so you have it at least 48 hours before the meeting you mentioned. Would that be helpful?’ And then ideally, we get it there early, as well as call and check it’s been received.

I recently volunteered to provide an outline for a session we were facilitating for a client. A day after my specified commitment her secretary asked me where it was. I had sent it two days prior (therefore a day early)…but that company’s email server had been down, my client had been traveling, and I had missed my deadline! Not my fault perhaps, but the impact was the same. Always check the email has been read, the note delivered, the voice mail heard.

Make commitments and come through on them. That is what trust essentially is. The faster we can create the conditions, the faster we’ll create the reality.

Make Sure the Other Person Receives Value

Again, it could be argued that this is just good business sense towards anyone, anywhere, anytime. Yes. But it becomes more challenging to deliver across cultural, geographical and other boundaries. This is because ‘value’ is in the eyes of the beholder. And while I can deliver on the letter of my commitment, it is always the ‘intangibles’, the spirit of engagement, the ability to go a little beyond the literal promise, the empathy and insight for how to make someone’s experience a little better, that separates out great bosses, businesses and allies.

Therefore I need to understand what value the person most expects to receive in this interaction. And this may be more inscrutable than we realize. One colleague may want predictability; another may want to be positively surprised. One may want continuity, another may want improvisation. Employees in a particular context may primarily want clean, hygienic surroundings. Employees elsewhere may overwhelmingly look for flexi-hours.

As we decide how to create our workplaces, our offerings, our agreements, we have to of course know our own non-negotiables — the boundaries within which we are able or willing to operate. But many times, we can do everything technically right, and still fall short of building a true ‘brand’ of credibility…because we didn’t bother to check if we met people’s legitimate hopes of us, not just their ‘requirements’.

Our concern for another’s value is how we demonstrate genuine concern and authenticity. At home or overseas, nothing builds credibility faster or better.

Going Global

Overall then, one of the biggest things that stops leaders from being globally effective is pandering entirely to what they find overseas…hence they lose their own original leadership voice, point of view, or distinction. The other, and equally damaging liability, is when we try to steamroll over others with whatever comes naturally to us — with no discernment, sensitivity, or insight into who they are and how we can really benefit them in a way that they would recognize as creating real value.

In short:

  • Make the message matter — and make it pertinent to their needs and aspirations.
  • Listen — so you understand who you are connecting to and can speak in terms of their values and interests.
  • Shift tempo — match pattern interrupts and the expression of your originality and differentiation with the ability to adapt to different modes and moods and being able to bridge to the exigencies of the situation or moment.
  • Prove Trustworthiness — volunteer for and come through on commitments.
  • Make Sure the Other Person Receives Value — as defined by them, in terms of the “intangibles” that may determine the quality of their interaction experience with you. Clearly carve out the non-negotiables so you maintain your own autonomy and professionalism —be willing to flex the rest.

When these animate and generate our habits, reflexes and behavior, we will not only thrive globally — we will deserve to!